House, Senate Release COMPETES Act Discussion Drafts

The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act, or the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69), was first signed in 2007, by President George W. Bush. The Act was intended “to invest in innovation through research and development, and to improve competitiveness of the United States.” The bill was reauthorized in 2010 (H.R. 5116) and is up for reauthorization again.

Currently, there are three drafts circulating Capitol Hill. The House Democrats released a draft in late October, with a revision in December, and the House Republicans are considering two separate discussion drafts, which were both released in early November: The House Enabling Innovation for Science, Technology, and Energy in America (EINSTEIN) Act addresses only the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the House Frontiers in Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act deals with the National Science Foundation (NSF); science, technology, engineering and math education; the Office of Science & Technology Policy; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It is important to emphasize that these are discussion drafts only; they have not been formally introduced, and are all subject to change.

Although each of these bills aims to improve U.S. competitiveness and innovation, their content varies and it is difficult to draw comparisons. The House bills crafted by the majority side of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee do not include funding levels for federal agencies, while the Democrat’s draft would authorize five-year funding increases (over sequestration levels), averaging nearly five percent increases per year, before adjusting for inflation.

The FIRST Act generated the most attention from the scientific community, eliciting concern about a few of the provisions included. For example, the bill would require NSF to produce written justification for accepted grant applications that it satisfies one or more goals outlined in the draft (e.g., national defense), and the justification would have to be publicly available before the grant is awarded. Furthermore, it would require that researchers certify the veracity of their research results if published, and would ban primary investigators from receiving federal funding for 10 years if they are found guilty of misconduct.

The New Democrat Coalition, a group of Democratic representatives, did not release a bill, but has published a “reauthorization agenda” for America COMPETES that outlines principles for improving American innovation. These include supporting basic research, providing a stable source of funding for R&D, supporting small businesses, and expanding public-private partnerships, among others.